Laure Sudreau-Rippe discusses the highs and lows of her success as a lawyer and her determination to save her husband's life.
Graduation day 1997 at Pepperdine School of Law. The moment of truth. The culmination of three years of hard work. For Laure Sudreau-Rippe (JD, ’97), it was just the beginning. The ceremony served as a stepping-stone to the obstacles that lie ahead.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” she said. “And when you look at that moment and you think, ‘Oh my. It’s finally over.’ But you are still looking out at the future thinking, ‘Am I going to make this?’ It”s pretty daunting because you are just starting off.”
There was the bar to pass, the job at the law firm to find, and the financial expectations to fill that often accompany the role of a lawyer. And on top of it all, there was the sadness that her father couldn’t be there. He had lost his battle to lung cancer when Sudreau-Rippe was just 21.
“You need to have faith and hope, and even in the face of really, really bad odds, you should never give up,” she said. “You make your own way.”
She has made her own way with a successful career, and in May, 15 years after she left the Malibu campus, Sudreau-Rippe returned to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award at a time, she says, marks a turning point in her life.
Success in Hollywood
Sudreau-Rippe left her native France in 1993 to practice law in the United States. She had received France’s equivalent of a juris doctor and found a job as a foreign consultant for Dewey Ballantine in Los Angeles, where she worked on the MGM v. Credit Lyonnais case, which involved celebrities like Kirk Kerkorian.
“It was a rare position for a first-year lawyer,” she said. “But because I spoke French fluently, I was called to translate, including at a deposition in Paris.”
The young lawyer wanted to get an edge on the competition in entertainment law, so she decided to apply to an American law school.
“Pepperdine took me without a traditional background,” Sudreau-Rippe said. “They reached out when a lot of others probably wouldn’t have.”
She enrolled in courses at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. Graduation came and went. The bar exam, though grueling, was passed. And Sudreau-Rippe began what became a successful career in entertainment and intellectual property law.
She first secured a position with Fox Kids, preparing intellectual property and intellectual rights documents for the network’s acquisition of material from companies like Marvel Entertainment. She then secured a position as a joint attorney for Disney and ABC upon their merger.
Soon after the tragedies of September 11, 2001, ABC joined NBC, CBS and Fox in airing a celebrity telethon. CBS contributed their studio for use, while ABC committed their legal team, which included Sudreau-Rippe.
“I remember looking around realizing that here I was working with George Clooney, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, and Muhammad Ali,” she said. “It was amazing to see all these people work so fast to make the show happen. What was so great about those three days was I was with people from the highest level of everything. But we were in the midst of focusing on what really matters. On 9/11, everyone was equal.”
Within two years, Sudreau-Rippe was offered a position with her family’s Louis Dreyfus Group, a diversified French private company involved in agriculture and energy commodities. She moved to the east coast, leaving the entertainment business for Wall Street. Everything seemed to have fallen into place when cancer hit hard once again.
A New Perspective
In 2006, Sudreau-Rippe lost her mother to breast cancer. Her death, and the disease, sparked a change in her view of life. But it wasn’t until 2008 that cancer thrust Sudreau-Rippe into making the life-changing decision to retire 11 years into her career. Her husband, Bill Rippe, had been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
“It was pivotal point when all of a sudden I needed to dedicate my time to figuring out a way to save him,” she said.
Side-by-side the couple fought the disease until Bill was in remission. Sudreau-Rippe joined the Lung Cancer Research Foundation board and the holding company board of the Louis Dreyfus Group. She catapulted herself into a role of building awareness of the disease that took her mother and father’s lives and threatened the life of her husband.
“The diagnosis was a wake-up call that maybe the real purpose of our lives is not to be chasing the almighty dollar or the corner office or the corporate acknowledgement,” she said, “but that there may be other paths that we don’t necessarily know we have to go down.”
With her new perspective, Sudreau-Rippe decided to also give back to the university that took a chance on a once unknown student.
In 2011 she became the first Pepperdine Law School alumna to fund an endowed faculty chair. Her $3 million commitment to the School of Law was designated to support a faculty member who has overcome significant obstacles. Janet Kerr became the first to occupy the chair for her work as executive director of the Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law, which guides law students in becoming entrepreneurs, or lawyers for entrepreneurs, and also maintains the microenterprise program, which seeks to train and equip underserved populations in life and entrepreneurial skills.
Sudreau-Rippe noted, “Part of the reason I supported Janet Kerr and endowed the chair is because I really recognize and am very impassioned about Janet’s work on the charitable, microfinance side and the kinds of projects the school has been involved with, like its work with the missions and holding poverty law clinics for the students that want to get involved with that.”
Sudreau-Rippe reflected on being selected to receive the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award at the School of Law commencement ceremony in May.
“It has come at an interesting time,” she said, noting the 15-year mark since she graduated from the School of Law. “Fifteen years is kind of an iconic time in terms of years out of graduate school. And for me, it sort of comes at a time when, interestingly enough, I’ve moved my life away from being a lawyer, so I find it ironic that at this time I am receiving this honor. What I think that means to me is that this is really more about being recognized for having given back and being aware of where all of us started. That we started with Pepperdine, and that Pepperdine was the school that gave us a chance and set us off into our lives.”
Joining their classmate in the commencement audience were fellow members of the Class of 1997. “In part it was about coming together with those that were such a close part of your life in school at a place that was so meaningful at one point,” Sudreau-Rippe said. “And it wasn’t about comparing achievements. It was more about saying ‘Wow, look how far we’ve come.'”
Her message to new lawyers, she says, “is really that the world they are entering into is no longer a world about people being individuals or being the center of things. The world they are entering into as lawyers is a world that is about community. The world has become a village.” She continued, “The award, for me, is about recognizing the community that has supported you, the school that you are in, and the classmates that will end up becoming, in a lot of cases, people that you will stay in touch with and who will be there to support you professionally or personally. It’s about recognizing the greater family that we all belong to.”
She also says that in a challenging job climate, she encourages new lawyers to consider opportunities beyond law firms.
“There are other jobs available that allow you to give back and have a meaningful and fulfilling personal and professional life,” she said. “It’s also a question of how you measure success. What does it mean to be successful? And how do you make an impact? There isn’t just one right answer. You have to stick with what feels right to you.”